Sunday, September 27, 2009

Birding Afloat - France

We arrived in Dijon on Sunday September 20th and met up with our friends aboard their boat Le HoddyDod. Our trip would take us along the Canal De Bourgogne to St Jean De Losne and then onto the River Saone through Auxonne, almost as far as Pontailler-sur-Saone.

Although our trip was primarily a social occasion you can't cruise along any canal or river without the possibility of some good birding opportunities and with this in mind I went fully equipped as ever with scope and binoculars!

Of course birding afloat is no pushover, especially when it's your stint at the tiller, the engine noise and the concentration needed to navigate don't allow time for a detailed observation, particularly as the the French canal's & rivers are still used commercially. The opportunities mainly come when your relieved of navigation duties or moored for the day and you can utilise the time for exploring! That said I already had Great White Egret, many Kingfishers, Common Buzzard, Honey Buzzard and Black Redstart under my belt, the latter of which are plentiful on the roofs and aerials of the local villages.

One such opportunity for exploration came when we moored not long after passing through Auxonne and leaving the wife and our friends to enjoy the fantastic autumnal weather (26C) I made my escape. My walk took me along the towpath side of the River Saone where I discovered an excellent butterfly meadow and several small ponds. My first bird of note during my walk was a Redstart perched on a fence near to open fields, closely followed by male and female Stonechat. I also spent an age trying to photograph one of the many Clouded Yellow butterflies but no matter how many I followed I was unable to catch one with wings spread!
After a while I entered a small copse where I picked up 2 Wood Warbler, recognised by their wonderful song and shortly after reemerging my attention was taken by an Osprey, which followed the river for a few hundred yards before disappearing over the tree line.

The small ponds produced Willow, Reed and Sedge Warbler but no surprises apart from a bird call which I couldn't recognise, when in doubt blame a Great Tit is what I always say!!

Finally, a great week in France was topped by my bird of the week, a Rough Legged Buzzard (pictured), which I spotted hovering just over the tree tops, it's white tail with broad dark band unmistakable. My butterfly count consisted of Clouded Yellow plus Common Blue, Brimstone, Red Admiral, Large White and Peacock.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Unexpected Delight

Having shrugged off a nasty head cold which I picked up in Spain I decided to pay an afternoon visit to Brandon before my departure to France. I didn't really expect much but the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm for this time of year.

I walked my usual route past Sheepfield, where I managed an excellent view of a Stoat, who sat up on his hind legs checking me out before bounding off into the undergrowth.

After a while in the main hide I was joined by Bob Lee one of the other regulars at Brandon and spent a peaceful afternoon checking out the many Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler and Snipe that are now arriving in numbers. Not many Warblers left on site now although I heard several Chiffchaff and Cetti's calling.

The main and unexpected event happened at about 4pm When a major eruption of the pool took place and everything literally took flight. Within seconds an Osprey, (another 1st for me @ Brandon), came from Teal Pool directly over the main hide. The last I saw of him was when he seemed to drop in over the tree line on Grebe Pool. It was a major surprise and ended a perfect birding week. It's off to France for me tomorrow and I must say that I'll have to go some to beat this weeks events!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

La Mata Report - Spain

Although my visit to Spain was initially to visit family I naturally went well equipped for any birding opportunities that might arise! I was really chomping at the bit at one stage when Dee spotted an Osprey flying over the villa heading for the Salt Marshes, which are literally right behind her dad's place!

I was rewarded later in the week however with a couple of lifers when Dee and I managed 2 visits to La Mata Natural Park Lagoons just on the outskirts of Torrevieja, on Monday and Wednesday. The reserve has a surface area of 3,700 hectares. Of these, 2,100 are stretches of water, while the rest is taken up by the surrounding areas (1,400 hectares of the Torrevieja lagoon and 700 of La Mata). A conservation project for the rare Audouin's Gull (pictured left) is one of the parks priorities. I'm also delighted that we managed good views of this delightful looking gull and thus my first lifer on the visit was noted.

My second came after a visit to one of the two hides on the reserve when we managed some equally good views of a single Gull-Billed Tern which came in just shortly after our arrival. It's also worth noting that the reserve also boasts an excellent observation tower too, where good views of many Little Egret, Blacked Necked Grebe and the distant Flamingo's can be observed.

Also on our tour of the reserve we managed good views of Crested Lark, numerous in numbers and several Great Grey Shrike were also a pleasure to see. Two excellent days birding at La Mata were also capped with observations of Marsh Harrier, Hoopoe, Little Tern, Mediterranean & Yellow Legged Gull. Within our wader list we had Golden Plover, Avocet, Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Little Stint & Turnstone! For a complete list of our visit Click-here. Were back in the UK now until Sunday when were off to France to spend a week on our friends narrowboat, more birding me thinks!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Foggy Start!

After an extremely chilly night I woke this morning just before dawn to a fogged in marina and to be honest almost turned over for an extra hours kip!
I made my way to Brandon just before sun up, playing the usual dare with the many rabbits and pigeons on route and arrived around 15 minutes before sunrise.
I took my usual walk past the wind pump, which was eerily still, and on past Sheepfield into New Hare Covert. By the time I spotted JR, who was ringing in his usual spot, Kingfisher in hand, I'd picked up a good number of Bullfinch but nothing more.
Having admired the recaptured Kingfisher, the little chap had been caught earlier in the week, I pressed on to the Wright Hide and a foggy East Marsh Pool. As I scanned through the murk I got sight of a lone Wigeon and had good numbers of Lapwing and Shoveler. Also of mention were 4 Gadwall and at this stage 8 Snipe.
After a coffee I made my way around to the Main Hide, calling in at River Pool and Teal Hide, when JR called to inform me of 2 Green Sandpiper which had just dropped in on East Marsh Pool. The sun by now had cleared most of the early morning fog and it wasn't long before I logged the 2 Sandpipers over my second coffee of the day.
A scan of the many BH Gulls revealed no surprises, that is until I looked across to Newlands and discovered to my great delight a pair of Spotted Flycatchers (Library Picture), enjoying the early morning sunshine, perched on a small piece of dead willow. By the time I'd phoned around my discovery a cameo appearance from a Sparrowhawk seemed to have sent them both into hiding. I did manage a couple more brief sightings but as TJ appeared at the hide around ten minutes later the Flycatchers were gone. However, a lone Water Rail made it's way across the front of the hide which he was lucky enough to see as he entered.
A trip to the Carlton Hide, which was full once more with the photographic community, revealed nothing new but apparently just after leaving a Grey Wagtail dropped in.
I left a beautiful sunny Brandon at around midday with a decent species count which also included 2 Whitethroat , 6 Chiffchaff, 7 Cettis Warbler and a Collared Dove, common enough but scarce on the reserve. I also managed a count of 15 Swallow and picked up a Coal Tit on Central Marsh Path
A few butterflies still around with Comma, Speckled Wood, Small Heath and Painted Lady. It's off to Spain on the morning flight so over the next week it'll be Twitter that will keep my blog updated, as I hope to get some birding in during my stay!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

All Calm @ Brandon

After that remarkable days birding at Brandon, documented in my previous post, things have certainly remained on the quiet side ever since with little in the way of migrants!
That said I did receive a text from JR on Tuesday morning informing me of a juvenile Ruff on East Marsh Pool. Unfortunately I was celebrating mums 89th in Liverpool at the time and was unable to get the tick on what would have been another Brandon first.
Today, Thursday 10th I worked with the conservation team at Brandon where we finished the East Marsh Pool maintenance and I have to say that the pool is now looking in great shape. When I arrived in the early hours it was a chilly 4C and a heavy mist was lying across all the pool areas on a wonderful cloudless autumnal morning. Unfortunately, the only addition to the normal species on the pool were 3 Wigeon that had arrived during the night.
One surprise today I didn't pick up a single Swallow, Sand Martin or House Martin all day long, although they were still plentiful on Sunday's visit the last few days I have certainly witnessed a major passage over the marina. Other summer visitors like Chiffchaff's however were still in evidence as too were Reed Warbler and Whitethroat, our resident Cetti's Warbler's are also now in good song. Not long now either before we welcome back Siskin, Feildfare, Redwing, Redpoll and Bittern to the reserve, although last year Siskin had already arrived by now.
The much cooler conditions are now having a greater effect on the butterfly population and even though the weather today reached a balmy 22C I was only able to pick up 2 Comma (pictured), 1 Speckled Wood and several Whites.
I'm off to Spain on Sunday for a family visit but I'm going fully prepared for some birding which I hope to fit in at some stage over the 5-days. Then 2 days after I arrive back into the UK I'm off for my annual visit to France aboard a friends narrowboat to tour the French Canals for a wonderful week, this will definately be a birding opportunity.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Another GREAT 1st!

When I arrived at Brandon Marsh this morning just prior to sunrise I had a funny feeling that the first of the month would bring something special!
My walk past Sheepfield revealed Great Spotted & Green Woodpecker plus 6 Bullfinch, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Whitethroat and 2 Blackcap, but I had no record of Willow Warbler, another regular in this area.
I spent a good half hour in New Hare Covert just as the sun was hitting the treetops and searched in vane for the Spotted Flycatcher I'd picked up on Sunday. You can imagine my reaction in the Wright Hide over coffee when JR, who was about 45 minutes behind, told me that he'd picked it up on his way through high up in the canopy. Not sure I'll live that one down.
We continued on to the Main Hide with the usual species on view, which included circa 500 Lapwing, good numbers of Shoveler, a single Little Grebe and Pochard plus several Snipe. At Carlton we hit on a lone Lesser Whitethroat and a Green Sandpiper but had to double back to the Teal Hide to pick up on 2 Greenshank which, we were reliably informed, had arrived after we'd left.
After completing some conservation chores over on West Marsh and dodging some heavy showers we headed back to the Main Hide for lunch. As we walked down the Central Marsh Path we received information on a major find for the reserve in the shape of a Great White Egret, (library Picture). The bird had been seen dropping onto Central Marsh minutes earlier and not yards from where we were walking. Doubling back to gain a high view point and after a short scan we were delighted to confirm the sighting. What followed was a frantic hour with phone messages whizzing around and within five minutes I'd personally placed the sighting on my Twitter and on the Branding Birding site. We were then treated to some great views of the Egret after being spooked by a Grey Heron as it toured the reserve before finally dropping in on River Pool. Our final views of the Egret, last recorded on the reserve in 1992 and another reserve 1st for me, were from Teal Hide as is perched precariously on a high willow overlooking the River Avon.
This remarkable days birding ended with a quick drop into Baldwin Hide to confirm views of a Dunlin that had dropped in and some excellent views of 2 Hobby as we arrived back at the car park!! What a day!!!